Cars That Last And Last: Driving The Same One For 77 Years

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M. Allen Swift with his 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Picadilly Roadster

M. Allen Swift with his 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Picadilly Roadster

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We've all heard the stories about people who hang onto their cars for decades.

Irv Gordon's 1966 Volvo P1800 is one; he's got more than 2.6 million miles on it now, after buying it new for $4,150.

Then there's Rachel Veitch, who at 91 has logged 562,000 miles--and had no fewer than 18 batteries and seven mufflers under "lifetime warranty" programs--on her 1964 Mercury Comet Caliente.

But M. Allen Swift of Massachusetts holds the Guinness World Record for longest-standing original owner. The length of time he drove his car may never be beaten: He was given his 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Picadilly Roadster new as a graduation gift, and drove it for an astounding 77 years.

He stopped driving, according to the Hartford Courant, only shortly before his death in October 2005, aged 102. The car covered 170,000 miles in that time, largely around Hartford, Connecticut, where Swift managed his family's precious metals business.

Irv Gordon with 1966 Volvo P1800

Irv Gordon with 1966 Volvo P1800

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Before he died, Swift made provisions for the car to be preserved for the public. He left $1 million as the seed funding to establish a new exhibit of industrial heritage in Springfield, Massachusetts.

That money enabled the museum to raise a total of $8 million for a new building that opened in October 2009 to highlight the area's industrial past, including factories that built the Indian motorcycle and the nation's first mass-produced gasoline car, the Duryea.

Additional exhibits cover Springfield's long history of gun manufacturing, as well as boats, outboard motors, and other products.

The Connecticut Valley Historical Museum now houses the two-tone green Rolls-Royce roadster, which still runs as quietly as it did the day it was built, according to museum director Guy McLain.

But why Springfield, of all places? Because that's actually where Swift's Rolls-Royce, too, was built.

Rolls-Royce was one of the very first carmakers to establish what we would now call a "transplant" factory, assembling luxury cars in Springfield from 1921 to 1931.

The Depression ended the experiment, and all subsequent Rolls-Royces have been built in England. A total of 2,500 cars were built over the 10 years, and more than half of them survive today.

For the record, it's not actually all that green to keep driving an old car, unless its fuel efficiency is high to start with. Manufacturing only contributes 6 percent of a vehicle's overall carbon footprint, according to a 2000 report from the MIT Energy Laboratory, On the Road in 2020: A Lifecycle Analysis of New Automotive Technologies.

The fuel it consumes, and the refining and transportation of that fuel, makes up 94 percent of its lifetime carbon emissions. So if you buy a new car that's twice as fuel-efficient as your old one--a 50-mpg 2011 Toyota Prius, for example, to replace an 25-mpg car--you'll cut its carbon emissions almost in half over the life of the vehicle.

Still, that shouldn't take anything away from Mr. Swift's accomplishment. Nor, for that matter, from his car and the engineers who designed and built it.

After all, can you think of a 2011 car that would be likely to run as well as it does today ... in the year 2088?

[Hartford Courant]

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Comments (12)
  1. What a nice graduation gift... It's one of the best articles I've read on TCC to date :-) Very interesting and educational. Thanks!

  2. I suppose with what could be considered extreme care and maintenance of a vehicle and a lot of replacement parts most cars could ride was well as they first did.

  3. 170 000 miles for 78 years does not sound that much. I have this mileage on my 1993 Citroen without driving it at all for the last three years. It seems the Rolls Royce has mostly been idle during its lifetime, supporting Rich's point for extreme care.

  4. Wow! I never heard of a car that still goes on for years. 170,000 miles are nothing for a 78 years old car, but considering the speed and specifications it is a good mileage.

  5. "After all, can you think of a 2011 car that would be likely to run as well as it does today ... in the year 2088"'t that why carmakers don't like the idea of electric vehicles?

  6. "After all, can you think of a 2011 car that would be likely to run as well as it does today ... in the year 2088". A more specific answer: what about the Tesla Roadster? It's made of aluminum and Kevlar so the number one car killer -rust- is pretty much eliminated. The number two (though related) car killer -build in obsolescence- doesn't seem to apply either: all the components seem to have been mounted in a very orderly and serviceable fashion so maintenance may be relatively easy and therefore low cost through out it's life. Slap in a new (and ever better/cheaper) battery every decade and I can't see why it wouldn't live to be a hundred if taken care of properly. Same may apply to a certain extend for the Model S and the Fisker Karma.

  7. I guess there's some kind of connection between car and its owner. My friend's car is pretty old, but it (actually, he) has a name (Harry), and I don't think that he'll ever buy another car. Not because he doesn't earn enough money (he does online writing jobs). They are just one organic whole..

  8. This is a great story.

  9. It is inaccurate to make a blanketed statement that fuel emissions make up about 94% of the carbon footprint a car makes and also inaccurate to say that a Toyota Prius will leave half of a carbon footprint than a car that gets 25 mpg. It depends on the cars involved. A study by, CNW Marketing Research estimated the lifetime carbon footprint of a Prius to be larger than that of a Hummer. Though newer results place the Prius below the Hummer, it is not necessarily better than a relatively fuel efficient car that is manufactured in and driven in America. This is largely because of the manufacturing of the Prius's battery, which requires materials from across the world. Also, Toyota has not supplied data to support their claims that the Prius actually reduces overall carbon dioxide emissions.

  10. @Kyle: That CNW study has been *widely* debunked for having inconsistent usage assumptions and many other methodological flaws. See here, for instance:

  11. As I said in my previous comment, "newer results place the Prius below the Hummer." However, that does not take away from the fact that the prius uses parts from across the world to be built and averages less than 50 mpg (comparable diesel engines often get as much if not more). Though I have no hard evidence (at least I am admitting it), I wouldn't be surprised to find a used American car of similar size to the prius that gets 25-30 mpg and that spends its whole life in America would have a smaller carbon footprint over its life span than a prius built from parts from all over the world. Also, this:
    "Toyota is still refusing to release figures on the energy use and carbon-dioxide production in building the Prius or recycling it. This is despite detailed requests from The Daily Telegraph and the Government Car Service in response to a Prime Minister's Question.
    The GCS runs 130 Priuses, yet merely received a brochure in response to its request for detailed figures on energy used in the car's production and that for its nickel-metal hydride battery.
    'It looks more like a flier,' said a spokesman for the GCS of the information pack it received. 'Toyota admits that building the Prius expends more energy, but then says that's compensated by its better fuel consumption, and that the lifetime CO2 saving is 43 per cent. It's a bit of sweeping statement.'"
    - The Telegraph (October 10, 2008)

  12. An interesting story,showing what could be done with
    vehicles of yesteryear.I own and drive a 1930 Model A Ford Tudor,Model 55b,that has 208,432 miles on it .Same engine,transmission,wheels(tires and batteries, have been changed many times)one window replaced when kids threw a rock at the drivers door.Original paint and thats about it.Henry did a pretty fair job on a car that cost about $370 in late 1929.I still get about 22 mpg.Not too bad for being over 80 years old.

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